23 November 2014

"Kasurige Kolama": more than a collection of laughs

Former Editor, Silumuna, Karunadasa Suriyarachchi (better known by his byline 'Kasuri') passed on recently.  This is a review of a collection of his widely read column in the Irida Divaina, 'Kasurige Kolama' written ten years ago and published in the Sunday Island of April 18, 2004.  Posting by way of tribute to his skill as a writer.

Kasurige Kolama, by Karunadasa Suriyarachchi, author publication, 229 pp. Rs. 250.00.
Reviewed by Malinda Seneviratne

I know people who buy the Irida Divaina just to read Harith Gunawardena’s "King Barnet" column and/or Karunadasa Suriyarachchi’s "Kasurige Kolama" (Kasuri’s Column). I know others who use these particular columns as kinds of entry points to the paper in general. Always entertaining, always touching on something that has currency, these pieces have a way of preparing the reader for the more serious analyses found elsewhere by sharpening perceptions and alerting him/her to the subtext of a given political reading. Indeed, the Irida Divaina is privileged to have two competent exponents of the art of political satire.

Yes, Kasuri’s Kolama has earned him a wide readership over the years. All his contributions are light enough to make even those who thrive on and demand "serious" political analysis smile. They also educate. Both the reader and the subject of his wit, if he/she has the humility and good sense not to be insulted. Neat juxtaposition, satirical ballooning and snide commentary, these are the main tools of the satirist and Kasuri employs them to good effect. He has, over the years, developed a certain finesse in his scathing attacks on event and personality, achieving a good balance between critique and humour. This is what makes him eminently readable and politically potent.

I can’t remember the name of the poet, but I remember this line very well: "My poetry is like the bread of Egypt; night passes over it and you can eat it no more". This is something that the political satirist knows well. Let go of the moment, and it will not come back again. Not in the same way, not at the same strength. The successful satirist is one who seizes the political moment, not hard and not too loosely either. He/she holds it delicately in the fingers of his/her mind and crafts a story that simultaneously unwraps the political, sheds it of grandeur and rhetoric. At the end of the exercise, the subject is left naked, stripped of all disguise. Anything less and the column falls flat on its face.

I believe anyone with a modicum of political awareness and a generous dash of creativity can be satirical. Your random man in the street is an excellent satirist. What separates the occasional joker from the consummate wit, I believe, is the ability to be consistently creative and to be able to pick the right topic at the right time. Kasuri, in this respect, stands above the crowd.

A collection of his contributions stands well in any library, no doubt. The problem with such a gathering however is that a political column of this sort is dated. Like the bread of Egypt. While there are timeless gems, these are always rare, which is after all why they are valuable. In general, Kasuri’s "Kolama" has to be read then and there. When next week comes along, it is old. It is weak. Not his fault, it is but the congenital disease of the genre. Dies a quick death. A book, therefore, is always feeble. Not everyone remembers the context. The tone and colour of the statement the columnist takes apart has suffered inevitable fading. The reader is as a result unable to appreciate fully the writer’s creativity and wit.

Still, this is not to say that one is left incapable of grasping something of the author’s mind and its workings. The things he/she likes, dislikes, finds repugnant, humorous and preposterous, can be obtained, if only in fragment. The column has always been a quick read, and so is the book. For those who are familiar with the column, it comes with the promise of great entertainment. Kasuri doesn’t fail you. He gives you familiar personalities in the grotesque versions they themselves reveal. He gives you familiar events that make us realise what kind of suckers we all are.

A long time ago, a friend of mine took issue with Kasuri’s "Kolama". He admitted that Kasuri makes us laugh but complained that his ultimate effect is to lessen our sorrow (duka thunee karana eka) and thereby immunize us to accepting tyranny. "Kasuri apata uththarayak denne na"(Kasuri does not provide us with an answer), he said. Does he have to? Aren’t we all thinking people? If the satirist shows us fault lines, can’t we use our strength to prise them open? Must the satirist do everything? I firmly believe people should do what they are good at. If everyone did it, the totality proceeds along beneficial directions. Kasuri does his part. To the best of his ability. He makes us laugh. That itself is a positive.